Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful

Chapter Twenty-Six

A bell announced Raine’s entrance.

The girl behind the counter had her head buried in a paperback, too busy to acknowledge him. Raine didn’t mind. He’d given up on his hunches, instead favoring the ol’ fashioned approach of asking. Tinny, barely recognizable music drifted from the back room.

He noted row after row of religious iconography. The shelves stretched to the ceiling, packed with discarded tokens, artwork, knickknacks from a forgotten age. While it might have been a treasured spot for Keir, to everyone else the shop was all but useless, a relic, a specialization as obscure as its subject.

Each of the major gods had their own section while some long abandoned immortals encroached on each other’s territory in a pitifully small display inside the glass of the front counter.

“What can we do for you?” The words came out in a slog. The clerk hadn’t shifted.

He ambled up to the counter, hoping this one would talk before his thinning wallet would convince her to sing. He leaned into it, putting on his best charming smile, but even that had worn thin at this point.

“I’m looking for a guy.”

“Wrong place. You want Bobby’s. He’s three down, past the—”

“No no, I think I’m at the right joint.”

“Uh-huh. We don’t do that sort of thing.” Her attention never drifted from the novel in her hands.

“It’s nothing like that. I’m trying to reconnect with a friend of mine.”

“Look, I told you, Bobby’s right down—”

“Do you rent out an apartment above here?”

Shouts came from the other side of the wall she reclined against. She slammed her fist twice against the plaster, shouted, “Keep it down!” before turning back to Raine. She laid the book face down, her spot marked for her to continue as soon as she had finished with him. “I just work here part time. You’ll have to talk to the boss.”

“But I’m talking to you.”

“Not anymore.” She picked the novel up with a practiced hand.

Raine knocked twice on the countertop. “I’ll just have a look around. Keir would love a memento.”

Nothing. Not even the flick of an eye.

Raine walked through the aisles, the music needling into his brain. He cast a glance to the front of the store, to the windows, only to find them blocked by the merchants crowding the sidewalks. His only portal to the outside world, the door, remained out of sight thanks to the store’s layout. He passed shelves dedicated to the Child Kanya, the Scholar Liam, the Explorer Journey, then he found the section for the Trickster.

Pausing, he examined the tributes to the scoundrel, and found himself staring at a fresh set of coins, just like the kind Keir clung to. An odd weight settled in his gut. He picked them up, fighting the unease, rolling them in his fingers. Gathering the set in his hand, he dropped them, letting sharp tones ring through the store.

“What’re you doing back there?”

Raine scooped up the set, marveling at their condition. Mumbling something, he walked to the front. His eyes never left the portraits as he laid them out, one by one. Once Theon’s mischievous grin shown up at him, he finally broke his gaze away. “How much for ‘em?”

She ran a hand over them, fingers sliding the coins together in hard tones. Raine had his wallet out before she said a word. She looked up. “Twenty-five.”

He slid a hundred across.

“I can’t break that.”

“Now about those apartments.”

Her eyes turned cold. She pushed the money back savagely. “I’m not going to lose my job for you.”

“It doesn’t have to come to that.”

“Get out.”

“I’m a paying customer.”

“I’ll call the Officers.”

“You don’t know who I am.”

“And I don’t give a fuck. Get out.” She turned to the door.

Raine’s knife flew past her face, embedding in the wall.

He vaulted over the counter, hitting the ground with a heavy thud. He slammed into the woman, forcing her against the wall. Her head bounced back with the movement. Her eyes swam, then gained focus. She screamed. He covered her mouth. He turned to the door, to the crowded street beyond, but no one entered.

“Does a man live above this shop?” he asked, his thoughts jumbling. He tried to think of his name, but couldn’t pull it out. He eased his hand from her mouth. The woman shuddered under his grasp.

He shook her, then saw her face. Tears filled her eyes. All that attitude had drained. One hand still clung to her book.

With a firm hand on her shoulder, he held her at arm’s length, studying her face. “Listen to me.” He faltered. “I’m trying to find a horrible person. He’s hurt people, many, and will again. His name is Turrell. Does he live here?”

She croaked in above a whisper, “Out back.”

He let go, retreated a step, bumped into the countertop. The glass shook and the trinkets inside toppled.

She fled out into the street.

The music wavered, then switched to something jaunty as the next track started. He ripped the knife out of the wall, cleaning the blade. The air still felt off, but he pushed toward the back of the shop. He glanced to the street, saw people crowding the woman, looking to the store.

Wouldn’t be long before the Officers showed up, hunting everyone’s most wanted.

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Justin D. Herd

Justin D. Herd is a purveyor of the weird and strange. He occasionally squawks at friends and family, but does so only under the cover of night. Okay, that's not true. He squawks in full daylight. Drinking games have been built around his peculiarities, but the truth of it is this: he is a loving husband, with two wonderful dem--children. One growls at things he likes, including pretty women. The other has started to learn hand-eye coordination. Neither had made it to the tender age of three. From there, things will only get more interesting. He spends most of his writing time either at a coffee shop or sitting at one of his many desks around his house. Any other place makes it nearly impossible for him to write. He uses horror movies and rock music to help get the juices flowing. His favorite authors are Jeremy Robert Johnson, Alan Campbell, Terry Pratchett, Justin Cronin, and Patrick Rothfuss. He consumes most of his books through audiobooks, but still loves his personal library and getting lost in the printed word.